‘Like playing football with your mates!’ John McGreal’s highlights from Town's ‘season in the sun’

Ipswich's John McGreal celebrates scoring his side's second goal against visiting Tottenham Hotspur,

John McGreal, pictured scoring against Tottenham Hotspur made more than 150 appearances during his time as an Ipswich Town player - Credit: PA

John McGreal joined Town in the summer of 1999 and played a key role in the Blues winning the Division One play-off final in 2000 and finishing fifth in the Premiership the following year. MIKE BACON caught up with him to remember that 2000/01 season - that ‘season in the sun’.

So, you’re born in Liverpool, support the Reds, while most of your mates are Evertonians - and then as an Ipswich Town player you beat both Merseyside teams in their own backyard, in the same season!

How nice is that?

Well, that’s what happened to John McGreal during the Blues’ ‘season in the sun’ - that 2000/01 campaign that saw Town finish fifth in the Premiership and grab a spot in Europe.

A delighted John McGreal celebrates his first Ipswich Town goal, during the 3-0 win at Everton in Se

A delighted John McGreal celebrates his first Ipswich Town goal, during the 3-0 win at Everton in September, 2000. Picture: WARREN PAGE - Credit: Archant

And while he enjoys memories of much of that season, you can’t let him gloss over the two wins Town enjoyed at Everton and Liverpool that campaign - in the space of 10 weeks - some players wait a generation just to win one game at Anfield or Goodison Park!

For McGreal, a classy ball-playing centre-half, who joined George Burley’s side from Tranmere Rovers in a £650,000 deal, the memories 20 years on are still vivid.

“I was so nervous for the Everton match at Goodison,” he said.

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“I was a Liverpool fan, but most of my mates were Evertonians. I knew they would all be there.

“To win was brilliant, to score at the Gwladys Street end was even better. That’s where my mates would have been. I just remember getting up to head a free-kick home, Marcus Stewart got the other two. We won 3-0 and I stayed over in Liverpool that night.

MARCUS STEWART: 'My season in the sun memories'

“We had a few drinks and I bumped into my pals. It was a great time.

“Our fans were just unbelievable. Wherever we went we packed out our end - and at Portman Road the atmosphere was incredible.”

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Leeds United's Alan Smith (left) in action against Ipswich Town's John McGreal during their FA Premiership match at Elland Road, in 2000. - Credit: PA

The Everton win was one of the first starts of the season for McGreal, who had been fighting off an ankle injury that pre-season and didn’t start a game until the Leeds win at Elland Road - that was Town’s sixth match of the campaign.

The goal he scored that afternoon was his first for Ipswich and his first in seven seasons!

However, once he had fully recovered from his ankle problem he became a regular fixture - and was delighted with the Merseyside away day ‘double’ the Blues cemented in December after the win at Anfield.

“The win at Liverpool was a great result for us,” he said.

MATT HOLLAND: 'My season in the sun memories'

“We played some really good football that day, only won 1-0 but we were good.

“George Burley instilled into us to play the ball on the deck. He liked good football and that really suited my game. If you couldn’t handle playing with the ball it was no good.

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Ipswich Town's John McGreal (left) and Chris Makin challenge Newcastle United's Nolberto Solano during and FA Carling Premiership game at Portman Road. - Credit: PA

The standards were so high, they were set in training.”

McGreal was in the team that won at Wembley in the play-off final in May 2000 and he says the momentum the team took from that victory spilled into a season where Town almost claimed a Champions League spot.

“It just snowballed,” McGreal said.

“It was just such fun. Like playing football with your mates every day. George recruited some good players like Hermann Hreiðarsson and Alun Armstrong. He showed so much trust in us.

Hermann Hreidarsson provided one of the iconic Ipswich Town images of 2000/01. Picture: PA

Hermann Hreidarsson provided one of the iconic Ipswich Town images of 2000/01. Picture: PA - Credit: Archant

“They were the best years of my career, no doubt.”

Having made nearly 200 appearances for Tranmere and more than 120 for Town, McGreal moved to Burnley in 2004 and made almost another 100 appearances.

He called time on his playing days and went into coaching where he linked up with Colchester United.

In 2016 he was appointed first-team boss and last season guided the U’s to the League Two play-offs, but lost to Exeter City in the semi-final. He was subsequently dismissed by the club in July after four years in charge.

GEORGE BURLEY: 'My season in the sun memories'

Today he admits he’s enjoyed the break from the game and has caught up with family. But the football passion still burns bright and McGreal is sure to be back in the game soon.

And you can be assured Ipswich Town fans will always look out for the unassuming ball-playing centre-half that contributed so much to the club’s most heady recent times.

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